NASA Astronomer Sparks Student Interest in Cosmos

NASA Astronomer Sparks Student Interest in Cosmos
Students from Rye Neck Middle School and Rye Neck High School welcomed renowned astronomer and research scientist Dr. Michelle Lynn Thaller to their school on April 27. Speaking before an audience of close to 60 budding scientists, Dr. Thaller, who is the assistant director for science communication at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, discussed a variety of topics that ranged from black holes to life on other planets and the formation of solar systems. 

Joseph Perlman, a high school math teacher and Math Department chairman, coordinated Dr. Thaller’s visit to spark the students’ interest in unique science paths and help provide them with further insight into the field. 

“Science is not only cool, but there are hundreds of applications of it,” he said. “Astronomy and cosmology incorporate almost every facet of science and mathematics for one singular purpose – to find life elsewhere. Dr. Thaller’s component about the possible indirect discovery of some life form based on reduced gasses in certain areas was pretty cool.”

Throughout her discussion, Dr. Thaller answered students’ questions and shared real-life photographs of Earth and other planets, which were taken by NASA. She also discussed how black holes form, talked about the possibility of humans landing on Mars and ways students can prove that Earth is not flat. 
 
“What stood out most for me, as a math teacher, was her constant use of the word ‘proof,’” Perlman said. “We do proofs in geometry and the normal criticism from students is that they never need this. But Dr. Thaller discussed how they prove there is liquid water on a planet millions of miles away and how they can prove facts indirectly by elimination.” 

Eighth-grader Peter Nicholas, who conducts research on his own and enjoys reading scientific books, said he has a genuine interest in math and physics.

“Science explores the unknown,” he said. “There are so many interesting theories out there and so much science that still needs to be proven, but I think in the next century we can solve all of these problems.”

Dr. Thaller’s visit was part of Rye Neck’s collaboration between the Math and Science Departments to foster continued interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related fields.